Monday, March 29, 2010

A Transference of Guilt

Before Petunia was born, in the final months of my pregnancy, I would often sit on Pumpkin's bed after she had (finally) fallen asleep and feel an overwhelming wave of guilt for the changes I was about to bring to her world. I assumed that the new baby would bring abrupt and significant changes to her beloved bedtime routine. I thought that Pumpkin would feel left out in the new family dynamic.

That is not what has happened at all. Pumpkin has adjusted really well to having a new baby in the house, perhaps because the baby is so easy-going as to barely disrupt her routines. She still has the same bedtime routine- Petunia is sound asleep before Pumpkin's routine even begins, having gone down ridiculously easily at about 7 p.m.

In fact, most of the time, I feel guilty for Petunia, who is not getting the same sort of babyhood as Pumpkin did. Pumpkin played on the floor with me every morning, while I ate my breakfast. Petunia gets this sometimes, if she wakes up early and Pumpkin wakes up late, but mostly she sits in her bouncy chair and chews on a teether (or "teeter" as Pumpkin calls it) while Pumpkin and I eat our breakfasts. Pumpkin got our undivided attention when we got home from work, since we postponed our own dinner until after she was in bed. Petunia sits in her bouncy chair after I get home from work, while I rush around the kitchen trying to get dinner ready so that we can all eat together before Pumpkin's bedtime. (Pumpkin watches Dora during this time, an arrangement I no longer feel bad about at all, although I do still have to reappear to dance to the "We Did It!" song with her.)

Petunia is such a laid back little baby. She often gets left on her mat to play on her own while we tend to Pumpkin, our intense little girl. I sometimes wonder what Petunia must think of the whirlwind of activity and the often screeching little girl at the center of it all. ("No! I don' want to go potty with you Daddy! Mommy goes potty with me!")

Petunia does cry out if she is left alone too long and gets lonely, and as often as not, it is Pumpkin who goes rushing to her to cheer her up. And the sight of Pumpkin almost always does cheer Petunia up. Petunia smiles at me when she sees me at day care, but bounces with joy when she sees Pumpkin. If Pumpkin sleeps in (a rare event), Petunia gets fussy when her usual wake up time passes and she has not appeared, then calms down and smiles when Pumpkin comes running down the hall.

Hubby and I try our best to do right by Petunia. We make a point of reading her bedtime stories every night, even though she would happily go to sleep without them. We try to split up some on the weekends, to give Petunia some one-on-one time with a parent, without the noise and distraction that is always around when Pumpkin is present. But the fact is, Petunia demands less of us than Pumpkin does, and so, sometimes, she gets less. I am very glad that she had 5 months of spending her days at home without Pumpkin (Pumpkin was in day care), when her needs and wants could dictate the schedule, and I feel guilty that she almost never gets time like that now.

So the guilt I don't feel about Pumpkin isn't gone- it is just transformed into guilt for Petunia, and this probably explains why I worry that maybe I should be doing more to challenge her to learn new skills.

But last week, the tables turned a little bit, and I got a glimpse of what the life I had expected would have been like. Petunia was going through her 6 month growth spurt, and waking up far more often than usual in the night. By Saturday, I was exhausted during the day. I longed for sleep so badly that I could taste it- a sensation all too familiar to me from Pumpkin's baby days. Pumpkin, in the meantime, continued her potty regression at home, despite her return to using the potty at day care. I could clearly see that what she needed was a patient and playful Mommy, who would help coax her to go potty more often. What she got was a tired, grumpy Mommy, who demanded that she go potty! Right now! This approach didn't really work, resulting in more accidents. And it wasn't like Petunia was getting quality mothering, either- she mostly got a bleary-eyed Mommy who either fumbled around and nursed her or waved a rattle in her face.

Then, starting Saturday night, things returned to normal. Petunia only woke up once. (For some reason, Pumpkin woke up once each night, too, but not until almost morning, so that wasn't too disruptive of my sleep.) Today, I felt better, and after work, I was able to turn Pumpkin's sudden obsession with her play phone into a game and get her to the potty before she had an accident. We even took a post-dinner walk around the block with both kids. So I guess I should stop feeling bad for Petunia- any slight she is experiencing is due to birth order, and not her personality. If anything, things could only be worse.


  1. paola3:53 AM

    'Any slight she is experiencing is due to birth order, and not her personality.' I totally agree!

    I had a year of what you described with no. 2 until Noah, no.1, went to kinder when he turned 3. He got the same amount of attention as before and if there was anything left over Zoe got it. The only time we had some one on one was when she was nursing, or the rare Sunday morning when hubby took Noah out and Zoe got me all to herself.

    But she didn't seem to mind. She was pretty easy going herself back then ( things changed from 8.5 months when seperation anxiety set in!). But the guilt. I felt awful that I couldn't give her the same attention that I had given and was giving Noah.

    Well, the cards have turned big time. I think she is making me pay for that year that we were ignoring her!

  2. I so hear you on this one. My heart sometimes aches thinking how Pea is getting gypped. Gus craves the center of attention and she gets the dregs sometimes.

    I love what you said about birth order and personality. I keep telling myself we have to make more special time just for her and fostering her skills. I see your point now about the encouraging your baby more with her development!

  3. Reading avidly. Expecting number 2 and feel guilty already. Guilty for DS who didn't get a vote on whether to change things. And guilty for #2 who can't possibly receive the attention that DS received.

    Does the guilt go away?

  4. @Jac- the guilt got less intense after Petunia was born and I saw that things mostly worked out.

    But no, it hasn't gone away. Maybe when they're in college?

  5. I felt exactly the same when my littlest was an infant.

    My firstborn was and is a high-needs child. My second-born is very easy going. My first-born still got most of the attention after her little sister was born, simply because she both needed and demanded it (and the two to three-year old age period is high-needs however you look at it). By comparison, a laid-back infant needs little--mostly just a boob or something to suck on. My youngest was perfectly happy lying on a blanket and playing by herself.

    I did feel horribly guilty, but my Legume is almost three now, and she doesn't seem damaged. She's a happy girl. In many ways, she's still more easy-going and independent than her big sister (she plays more easily by herself, doesn't hang on me as much as her older sister). Just a difference in personality, I guess. I'm also guessing things will reverse themselves in adolescence! (we'll pay for the independent, fearless streak in our youngest child then!)

  6. This kind of guilt dance has been a common theme for me as a mother of twins. Twin A was a high-needs infant and ended up being held and carried more than B. But then B was more difficult to wean, particularly at night, and ended up co-sleeping and all-night-nursing for many months while his brother was in his room alone. Now that they're 3 (that kind of) guilt is not such a factor, but I do wish we made more of an effort to have one-parent, one-child time in our house, as opposed to always 1-2.

  7. In my parallel life, we have been dealing with so much of the same things.

    I keep reminding myself and my hubby that what the Pookie gets that the Pumpkin didn't is a sibling. So although I might not be able to (birth order) or need to (personality) devote the same attention to the Pookie that I did/do to the Pumpkin, he also gets the attention of his sister. And the bond and love and joy and entertainment they get from each other very obviously makes up for any lack that either are getting from us parents in my household. Now that the baby is crawling and more mobile and able to play with more, it's even better for the two of them.

    I have also been working out ways to make sure each of the kids gets one-on-one time with each parent. I think that helps a lot.


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